C.J. Chenier

The Desperate Kingdom of Love

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Entitling an album The Desperate Kingdom of Love might be a clue that this set isn't going to be your typical C.J. Chenier zydeco house party romp, and it isn't. Chenier's Port Arthur, TX, hometown was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and that storm and its aftermath permeates everything here, without actually filtering down into the individual songs in any specific way. There's just this muted feeling of loss and quiet desperation hanging in the air as Chenier moves through a powerful set that uses music to express what is almost impossible to express. Oh, he cuts loose on a couple of party cuts, including the infectious "Finger Lickin' Chicken" and the instrumental "Bogalusa Boogie" (which is dedicated to Gatemouth Brown, who died just days after Katrina destroyed his home in Louisiana), but most of the album is a more meditative affair, and tracks like the opener and title tune, P.J. Harvey's "The Desperate Kingdom of Love," and Van Morrison's "Comfort You," which closes things, are hardly concerned with filling a dancefloor with dancers. Recorded with minimal overdubs in Boston with the Tarbox Ramblers a month of so after Katrina hit, The Desperate Kingdom of Love is easily Chenier's most intriguing outing. He covers a pair of his father Clifton Chenier's songs, giving "Black Snake Blues" an ominous and atmospheric reading while letting "Ain't No Need in Cryin'" speak simply and directly. Perhaps the most striking track is a cover of a little-known Hank Williams' song, "Lost on the River," which is a mournful dirge that unfolds like one long breath of resignation, and yet remains oddly hopeful. It is also about as far from zydeco as one can get. But then this isn't a zydeco outing, in spite of Chenier's reputation as the festival party king. This is a modern blues album, and an admirable attempt to make music that lasts past Saturday night. You can dance your blues away, but when the song stops, the blues will most certainly slip back, and it's time, Chenier seems to be saying, to deal with that.

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